This morning, I’m holding Smudges and Charlie, our two rescue dogs, a little tighter than I normally do. They’re enjoying more Bully Bites, Greenies, & Milk Bones than on any other Tuesday morning. Is it due to the emotional and psychological impacts of learning about the high-kill shelters in California, Texas, Florida, and a few other states? I’m certain it does – and it may also be connected to learning, much to my personal horror and torment, that gas chamber shelters still exist. I just learned of a two-year old Labrador mutt awaiting its entrance, should rescues fail to snatch him up in time, in a facility in Lindon, Utah.
The mind reels in helplessness, urgency and desperation. The first impulse is to scream,
in fear, outrage and tormented helplessness. The next impulse is to share and post to all my Instagram connections, so that someone close by the subject rescue may call and claim the dog in peril, drive over and put them in the back of their overloaded SUV/minivan/Subaru/Toyota, lead them out of said vehicle and walk them through their own front door. After I’ve shared, I call the shelter holding him to inquire of his status. Have any of the rescues called to claim him?
Often, the beleaguered workers are animal lovers as myself, or in poorer rural areas, volunteers wholly sympathetic to the plight of any given animal. It helps my mind and heart to think of them that way and give them the benefit of the doubt.
Welcome to the world of animal welfare, I muse, where the actors are as emotionally impacted as a mother tending a wounded child. And yet, not all are equally resourced. In diving deeper into this world, I’m becoming intimately familiar with who-does-what, all in an effort to find out,
Among such animal-loving spirits – volunteers and paid shelter staff — they’re often trying to save the animals coming through their doors. It’s not ideal. Then there’s the rescue coordinators, calling – or taking calls from – the closest rescues in what becomes the life-and-death race to save a particular dog or cat. They’re not the policymakers – and largely, not the decision makers. Often, they’re as caught in this torturous, dysfunctional, stressful and broken system as those trying to rescue any one particular life.
Would they listen to any of us animal lovers advocating for change in the system? Have they heard of the No Kill goal of Best Friends Animal Society and their Gap Analysis Tool, for instance, and if so, are they interested?
Certainly, the pragmatic resources are endless – and that’s not what I’m looking to provide. I’m still navigating around the terrain, sniffing out the truth and digging down into the details. And then, there’s the inherent problem of education, on the issue of how we arrived here to begin with:
Animal overpopulation, the problem of which has been birthing over decades of indiscriminate, accidental breeding, increasing costs of spay and neuter, and a new generation largely unaware of the problem of overpopulation and euthanasia to begin with.
It can make a well-intentioned animal loving soul’s head spin in endless confusion and too many options. Where to jump in?
Trying to insert myself, with all my heartfelt passion, love and sensitivity for animals in peril, into an ongoing conversation feels as vulnerable, confusing and uncertain as the future plight of our nation. I want to help do something – somewhere. It’s also an intrinsic female trait to feel plagued with self-doubt and uncertainty every few steps.
In posting, for instance, on social media of the animals in peril, am I offending someone, turning them away? Often, the situations look dire, depressing, or emotionally impactful. And I do like to consider my audience: sensitive, animal-loving souls who should be spared the traumatic effect of the dark details. I’m not proclaiming I’m Suzy Sunshine, just that I resonate with those who toss and turn in sleeplessness for the plight of a dog situated, such as Lincoln.
In this world, there seem to be those given to high drama for its own effects. I want to avoid these connections for the obvious burnout effect I’ve seen so often in the animal rescue movement (not to mention the PTSD and associative medications involved).
There will be those in the animal world who simply enjoy the photos of pine siskins, moose. They share often of their own deliriously happy, fat and sassy rescue dogs. They, like me, are as wanting more of the joy in life than not, particularly in our chaotically dark, sociopolitically transforming world.
On any given day, who can blame them?
And then, I return to those as hungry for joy and peace – those actively situated in the rescue movement — running a race to attain it for all involved. For them, questions arise:
How to be most effective to help them? What’s most needed, and can I somehow provide it, or facilitate the effort to achieve it? In some cases, the system they’re entrenched in is enduring. And often, the powers-that-be with whom they’re dealing have some kind of emotional, psychological, physical or even financial investment in maintaining the status quo.
Take the case of a New York shelter. Not a high-kill shelter, Thank you, Jesus. And, they have long-term residents – LexiMama, Diego, Juniper, and a ten-year old shepherd. They share on their situation almost daily. People (including moi) repost. And the dogs wait, day after day, for the quintessential furever – or any – home.
I took it upon myself to research options for these long-term residents. I found programs with nonprofits pairing PTSD veterans with homeless/rescue pit bulls. There are certainly enough to start a conversation:
are the more notable ones. I passed this info along, contacted the shelter.
All fell into an abyss of silence and absence of response.
Meanwhile, the posts are regurgitated daily – the bios the same – the only thing changing is the count of the number of days the dogs remain in the shelter.
It begs the question, recently asked of me, by a rescue coordinator in California:
So, let me ask you – Do you find it humane for a dog to remain in a shelter for months on end? Is that any kind of life for him/her?
Yes, I do think it’s better than the alternative. While the dog’s alive, at least he/she still has a chance of finding a forever home. Who are we to take their lives away?
It’s been a month since I began caring about these particular dogs and options for them in that New York shelter. I wonder, Where is the breakdown, and just how much is pandemic-related?
It comes back to the dilemma of how to best help. Some – like the rescue folks in California – are action oriented, equipped to respond to the call of a dog in danger by physically pulling her out of the shelter, getting them (hopefully) the training, love and guidance needed. After decompressing from the trauma, before going on to a furever (again, hopeful) home, they solicit donations and support along the way to help with the costly expenditure of undertaking the rescue. I envy those people – wish our fully-populated canine/feline rescue household could accommodate such efforts. And for all reasons pragmatic and then some, I simply cannot.
Where, then, can an animal lover best help? Certainly, the first question to be answered – Is my help needed?
Here in the bliss state of progressive Colorado, dogs are as welcome, valued and loved on as they dream they ever could be. We are indeed privileged – and I don’t mean that in a spoiled, entitled way. I mean that it feels as though the systems and people in them appear to be working well enough to not even be considered as being a condemned member of the higher-kill states.
Which brings me back to more notable high-kill states — California and Texas – to name two. I’m connecting with all whom I can, asking questions, listening intently. I’m trying to make efficient my actions, stay on the positive side of messaging, and steer clear of the emotionally draining burnout of high drama.
I may, in the end, return to efforting through the legal end of things, ala organizations like the Animal Legal Defense Fund. I appreciate the solid, known ground of a life in law cultivated over twenty-five years. When hearts and minds cannot be convinced through moral, emotional, ethical or psychological means to do right by animals, that’s where the law comes into play – for the benefit of the animals, a place it counts the most.
And yet, the question is still open, my heart and mind still unresolved, as to other ways to answer the oft-asked question in the rescue movement,
How can I best help?
Namaste, and thank you for tuning in…And by the way, Lincoln was rescued before any harm could come to him, thank you to the ones pulling him out of the way.